Copying Barcelona’s tiki-taka style will not bring success to most teams, according to Napoli coach Rafael Benitez.
Former Valencia, Liverpool and Chelsea manager Benitez is known to be a keen student of the tactical side of the game, and says he has noticed a trend in Spain and elsewhere towards the short passing style with which Barcelona won so much under Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova.
But he told AS in a lengthy interview that most teams needed a 'balance' between Barca’s trademark attractive approach and a more effective direct game.
"There have been teams who have played well in other countries, but on a level of collective effectiveness, Barcelona has become a reference for many people, but also a mistake for many others," Benitez said. "People think that is the only way to play. There is a long path between knocking long balls all the time, and always playing short passes to feet. Balance is the base for a team to work well.
"And there are teams who follow Barca, who lose their balance and play football that many people say is attractive, but they do not win anything. Rayo [Vallecano] had 51 percent possession, and Barca had 49 percent and Barca ended up winning. You need to mix possession and effectiveness. My idea is not pure direct football, nor possession without anything else. It is a mix."
Benitez’s preferred style has proved an instant success at Napoli, where he has overhauled the players and system, while guiding them to second place in the early Serie A table, with six wins and a draw from their first seven games.
The Spaniard admitted he had been working hard.
"They finished second last season, nine points behind Juve," he said. "But that was with a different style to ours. They played with a five-man defence and on the break, based around [Edinson] Cavani. We have changed the style of play, with more possession and control."
Selling Cavani to Paris Saint-Germain during the summer for 64 million Euros had helped in building a new team, Benitez said.
"There was a very good management at the sporting level," he said. "Cavani’s departure does not damage you too much, because it generated a lot [of money to spend]. We were able to make a big investment in [Gonzalo] Higuain, [Raul] Albiol, [Jose] Callejon, [Pepe] Reina... Although Juve is the strongest team because they own their own stadium, we were the team who spent the most on new signings in Italy."
The overall standard of Italian football had dropped in recent seasons, but was now on the up again with quality forwards coming in recently, Benitez maintained.
"It has improved… it is true that the level had dropped," he said. "There are now teams who play well, Roma, ourselves… There is more and more possession of the ball, but it remains a pretty difficult league on a tactical level. [Carlos] Tevez, Mario Gomez, [Fernando] Llorente and Higuain have all arrived. That makes the level climb a lot."
The former Real Madrid B coach declined to say whether he was surprised Blancos president Florentino Perez had decided to sell Higuain last summer.
"I am not getting into whether it was the correct decision or not," Benitez said. "He was our objective, we went for him and that is that. It is up to them to judge [their own decision]."
Neither would he be drawn into judging Carlo Ancelotti’s tough start as Madrid boss.
"I know [Ancelotti] well," he said. "I met him in Italy playing against Milan on more than one occasion in the Champions League. He is a good person and a great coach. I have not seen much [of Madrid this season]. But logically it takes a while for new players get used to a new coach."
The Madrid-native, 53, was also coy on whether he saw himself as the long-term replacement for Vicente del Bosque as Spain’s national coach.
"Del Bosque is doing great work," Benitez said. "I have said that I would not mind [getting the job], but in the long-term. Down the road it could be considered, not in the short-term, because Vicente is there and he is doing phenomenally well."